Post Office Censoring Speech

The United States Post Office had decided to get into the censorship of speech business. Cannabis is legal in several states now. Not surprisingly this legalization has created a desire by cannabis related business to advertise their goods and service. Nothing illegal is being advertised so everything should be cool, right? Wrong. The Post Office is claiming that since cannabis is still illegal on a federal level it’s illegal to mail any advertisements for cannabis, even if those advertisements don’t cross state lines:

The confusion started in Portland, Ore., where local newspapers have been running ads for dispensaries and manufacturers in the state’s now-booming weed industry after voters legalized recreational pot for adults last year, following medical pot in 1998.

In November, Portland’s postal district issued a memo to newspaper publishers, telling them they are breaking the law by running ads for pot and using the U.S. mail to deliver their papers.

The reason? The U.S. Postal Service is a federal entity. Even though Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska have legalized recreational marijuana and 23 other states have legalized medical pot, any newspaper running ads in those states violates a federal law preventing advertising for illicit goods.

Since the Post Office still enjoys a monopoly on delivering first class mail it would also be illegal for some of these advertisements to be shipped through another company. With that said, this would make a hell of a good act of civil disobedience. There is one bright side though, the Post Office is apparently unable to enforce this censorship:

But there’s a twist. The Postal Service apparently has no authority to stop the mailers if their publications contain pot ads. The new policy directs postmasters to send a report to the local U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service.

The matter would, in theory, then be turned over to a law enforcement agency for prosecution, although it’s unclear whether this kind of crime would be prosecuted. Federal authorities have generally not cracked down on pot sales in states where they’re legal.

This does show one of the major downsides of any monopolization in the mailing market. A mailing agent with a monopoly can end up becoming a censor. Either by refusing to deliver certain goods or material containing particular forms of speech a mailing agent, without any competitors, can create a prohibition without even having to go through the usual legislation process.